| Sourav Ganguly snaps up Daniel Vettori off Harbhajan Singh in Centurion Friday. (Reuters)
Centurion: Wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum’s spilled sitter of Rahul Dravid virtually cost New Zealand a place in the semi-finals Friday as India settled scores beating them by a comfortable seven-wicket margin in a World Cup Super Six match.
In a stark reversal of roles from India’s tour of New Zealand two months ago, the Black Caps found themselves at the receiving end of a Zaheer Khan-inspired Indian pace fury and were skittled out for a paltry 146 in 45.1 overs. This was after being put in by Sourav Ganguly on a good batting track. Zaheer finished with four wickets and also became the quickest Indian to reach 100 wickets in one-day Internationals.
The Indian reply witnessed some minor hiccups, the first three wickets falling for only 21 runs. However, the Indians cruised home with relative ease thereafter, reaching 150 in 40.4 overs. Mohammed Kaif top-scored with an unbeaten 68 while Dravid, who was let off by McCullum when on one, made 53 not out.
India’s victory looked assured once New Zealand were bundled out for a low score but pace sensation Shane Bond brought some excitement into the game with his two early strikes -— Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly. Sehwag flashed at a widish delivery to be caught at slips after making one run while Sourav, who scored three, was bowled off a virtually unplayable yorker.
When Sachin, who made 15 with three fours, hit Daryl Tuffey straight into the hands of Jacob Oram at point, India had slipped to 21 for three in the fifth over and New Zealand suddenly started fancying their chances.
However, Dravid and Kaif played sensibly, adding 129 runs for their unfinished partnership which bettered India’s previous best fourth wicket stand against New Zealand of 101 between Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengasarkar.
Both the batsmen survived a few chances early in their innings before settling down to guide their side to their seventh consecutive one-day victory.
Kaif, who was lucky that a couple of his uppish drives were out of the fielders’ reach, was the more impressive of the two as he rotated the strike with ease and also played some delightful cover-drives. He struck eight fours in his highest knock, so far, in this tournament.
Dravid was his usual composed self and batted according to the demands of the situation. He was content playing second fiddle to Kaif and opened up only towards the end when he struck most of his seven boundaries.
The defeat left New Zealand hoping for Zimbabwe’s victory over Sri Lanka Saturday to squeeze into the semi-final. New Zealand have eight points after the completion of their Super Six matches while Sri Lanka have 7.5.
Earlier, the Indian pace attack fully justified the captain’s decision to bowl first by making early inroads into the New Zealand batting line-up.
Zaheer struck twice in the very first over of the innings, dismissing Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle with his second and third deliveries, respectively.
New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, however, batted fluently, and even attacked Zaheer, who went for 28 runs from his first three overs despite the wickets.
Sourav quickly replaced Zaheer with Ashish Nehra who produced immediate results by restricting the flow of runs. Nehra gave away just three runs in his first four overs and claimed the wicket of Scott Styris with a beautiful outgoing delivery that took a healthy edge of the bat on its way to the wicketkeeper. Styris, who made 15, was associated in a 38-run third-wicket partnership with Fleming.
Zaheer, brought back from the opposite end to replace Jawagal Srinath, then claimed his 100th one-day wicket when he bowled McCullum for four in the 14th over. Zaheer reached the milestone in his 65th match which made him the quickest Indian in the club. Ajit Agarkar had claimed his 100th wicket in his 67th game while Srinath took 68 matches for his 100 wickets.